Reasons to be appy…

An effective app can enhance a business in a variety of ways but with so many available, brands must ensure that their creations are popular and that they keep customers engaged.


Every brand seems to have an app these days, but an alarming amount of money is wasted on developing unwanted ones. Apple announced in June that there are a total of 650,000 apps in the App Store, yet 400,000 of these have never been downloaded according to analytics agency Adeven.

That said, more than 1 billion apps were downloaded in the last week of December 2011 alone, according to Flurry, so there is a clear and growing appetite if brands can get it right.

As Ed Keohane, editor of, which worked with Grapple to launch the UK’s first free car valuation app this summer, says: “The app looks good, it works well, but in the end it all comes back to strategy. We know who our audience are – in-market car buyers.” The app had 60,000 downloads in the first few weeks alone. Other brands are also starting to take a longer term view.

Showroom apps

In August, Volkswagen worked with Tribal to develop a showroom iPad app to be used by retailers countrywide – a strategic move to facilitate the changing way that consumers research and buy cars. “We wanted something that wasn’t campaign led or short term to showcase the range of cars and their options,” says Marianne Bearton, relationship marketing manager at Volkswagen UK. “It links customers’ experience at home with their visit to the showroom, so they can see a car online at home, come to a showroom, talk to a salesman and carry on that journey.”


Customers can design, build, search and save their choice of Volkswagen on the Car Configurator iPhone app before accessing their saved details in the showroom on the iPad app. “The majority of people research online and then visit a showroom – they don’t want to come in and start a whole new discussion, they want to pick up where they left off.”

Investing in apps that support changing customer behaviour is an increasing trend with brands. As Olivier Ropars, senior director of mobile commerce at eBay, comments: “Technology is fundamentally changing the retail landscape and mobile is going to be the most important trend that shapes consumer behaviour and the retail environment over the next few years.” EBay was one of the first brands to launch a mobile app in 2006 and has continued to innovate.

It recently introduced image recognition to its motors app so consumers can now take a photo of a car and the app will search motors listings to find similar vehicles for sale. It has also introduced augmented reality to its fashion app, allowing shoppers to find items on eBay that match the colour and patterns of images in photographs.

“We’ve innovated quickly so that our customers can access eBay whenever and wherever they want through their smartphone,” claims Ropars. He adds that as a result of this early adoption, an item is bought every second via eBay’s mobile platforms.

Publishing success stories

With increasing numbers of users now happily consuming editorial content via tablet devices, many publishers have also used app technology to help them stay ahead of the curve. The FT recently won best mobile innovation for publishing at the Global Mobile Awards for its app, which uses HTML5 technology, allowing users to download directly from the browser, rather than through iTunes. Since its launch in June 2011, the app has had over 1.7 m users and 40 per cent have bookmarked it. Mobile now drives 15 per cent of’s subscriptions and 20 per cent of its traffic.

Another publishing success story is the 158-year-old British Journal of Photography (BJP) magazine, which launched an iPad app in September 2011, followed by an iPhone app in July this year, in order to both tap into changing reading habits and reach a wider audience.

“We knew from our online and social audience reach that there was a far greater audience potential for BJP’s printed content but because the magazine weighs half a kilo it is incredibly expensive to deliver overseas and therefore we could not satisfy the international demand,” says Marc Hartog, group publishing director, personal technology group at Incisive Media, which publishes the title.

“With Apple we launched simultaneously in 143 territories for the same price (locally converted) and immediately saw traction in every one of those countries.” The BJP’s print subscriber base is at an all-time high of around 4,000 worldwide, yet paid app subscriptions (the same as the print subscription price) are already fast approaching this number.

Extra channel

Virgin Atlantic has also used an app to help drive membership of its Flying Club loyalty programme. The airline, which works with LBi, first launched its iPhone app in May 2010, largely as an operational tool that communicated flight information. It has since evolved and now includes an online check-in facility, access to user’s Flying Club accounts and the airline’s live Twitter feed.

“We have tried to be as useful as possible,” says Fergus Boyd, strategy manager for eBusiness at Virgin Atlantic. “We have also grown the Flying Club and the app is now a useful enrolment channel for our loyalty programme. Those who like us as a brand might download the app and then discover that we have a loyalty scheme, so it is an extra channel to market.”

The airline also has a range of “softer” iPhone apps, including Flying Without Fear to reassure nervous passengers and Jet Lag Fighter, both of which are designed to support the airline’s brand values. “They are about reassurance,” says Boyd. “They promote Virgin Atlantic as a caring, sharing airline.”

Reinforcing values

Another company that has created an app that reflects its brand values is insurance company eSure, which launched its DriveOFF mobile app on Android in August. The app supports the company’s overarching brand positioning as a champion of safer driving, as well as a trusted brand. Based on research into the negative impact of simply having a mobile phone on while driving – whether the driver answers it or not – the app automatically disables the phone once the car is moving at 10mph or more.

Volkswagen: Apps can continue the conversation once the customer sets foot in the showroom

“It is an app that does one very simple thing – it isn’t full of bells and whistles and doesn’t take you to buy our product,” says Adrian Webb, head of corporate communications at the company. “It is for people who can’t resist the temptation to look at a flashing or beeping phone. Our research shows that drivers’ eyes come off the road for up to seven seconds just to see what type of message it is.”

But Webb says the company doesn’t consider the app to be part of the marketing spend. “We consider it ‘risk mitigation’ spend. Two-thirds of our premiums now go on people being injured, so for us it is a way of helping our business. If there is a tangential benefit of awareness of our brand and positioning of our brand with safety then that is really good, but it is much more a strategic approach to what a little piece of technology can do to help the wider part of our business.”

Spreading the word

But with so many apps not downloaded, how are brands ensuring that their creations are seen and used? Boyd says there has been “no expensive marketing” for Virgin Atlantic’s suite of apps, instead it has been “very much word of mouth and through the website”, with the apps also co-promoting each other.

British Rowing has also been frugal. “We operate on a fairly limited budget in terms of marketing so we have to be a little creative and make sure we make the most of cheaper opportunities,” says Rich Stock, explore rowing programme manager at British Rowing. It uses social media to reach people (see Case Study below).

Incisive Media also deployed social media as one aspect of promoting its BJP app, approaching influential bloggers and tweeters with exclusives, as well as using its own online and social networks to encourage people to talk about it. “We have also put sharing in the heart of the app because we believe that our own readers talking about the app content to their likeminded friends and followers is the best way of seeding content generally,” says Hartog.

Of course, for iPhone apps, having the weight of Apple behind you is also a huge boon. When Virgin Atlantic launched its app in May 2010 it reached 100,000 users in two and a half weeks, but Boyd admits that was “partly because Apple promoted it”. Incisive Media had the same experience with the BJP app, says Hartog.

“There is no way to buy promotional space within the app store and nobody at Apple seems to know how to get in there. But if you create engaging content that they want to use to showcase their device there is a good chance they will highlight you as a ‘staff pick’ or top app’ and that boosted our volumes exponentially. Once you make it into the Top 10 charts people can find you more easily and that maintains volume,” says Hartog.

Deeper than downloads

But while downloads are a key measure of success and return on investment (ROI), brands are starting to look beyond download figures to justify spend. Volkswagen did a pilot test for four months before launching its app to its UK network of retailers. “We had positive results in terms of customer satisfaction and whether they had used the device in the showroom and whether it positively impacted on their purchase decision,” says Bearton, who says the company will also be ringing all customers who have bought a car recently to find out to what extent it influenced their decision.

Boyd at Virgin Atlantic says that while downloads are useful, most of the company’s apps are free so the figures aren’t crucial. “The ROI for the main app is partly driven by the fact that it is an enrolment vehicle for our loyalty scheme. The app costs have been justified in the enrolment acquisition numbers.” Keohane adds that is focusing as much on interaction as downloads, while for eBay, which works with Blue Rubicon to promote the app, sales are a key metric for analysis.

As Hartog at Incisive Media says: “The number of downloads is only really useful as a headline number because agencies and clients now dig beneath this top level statistic and ask for much more granular information, such as issue download volumes, dwell time, page views, repeat visits, interactions and click-throughs. From our own ROI, I am most interested in conversion of downloads to paid purchases or subscribers.”

NMA Explains: Apps

Ronan Shields

Ronan Shields

The success of apps used to be measured in terms of download numbers.

However, the key measure of the success of an app is the number of installs of a given app, i.e. the first time an app is downloaded, and its ongoing engagement rates.

Brands should also consider how the app is used within their target customers’ purchase journey, so should the app be used before, during or after a purchase?

But the era of just building once and then submitting to the Apple App Store is long over. As there are now so many more platforms for apps, a more forward-thinking attitude is needed if it is to prove effective part of a strategy.

Case study: British Rowing

Pull factor: British rowing uses an app to encourage more people to row

Apps can improve the number of people interested in and engaged with a brand, rather than just market to existing customers. British Rowing, the sport’s national governing body, is tasked with increasing the number of people rowing – both outdoors and indoors – and has a participation target from Sport England. It hit on an app to help achieve these goals, particularly in light of the number of popular fitness apps on the market.

“We wanted to create an app that first of all got people using the indoor rowing machine for longer (many don’t use it for the 30 minutes stipulated to register on the Sport England stats) and would also get people to associate that sport with outdoor rowing,” says Rich Stock, explore rowing programme manager at British Rowing.

“We felt we could produce something for indoor rowing that would help with those objectives and provide people with training sessions that were a bit longer in length and show them how they can use the indoor rowing machine more effectively. The app has videos that teach technique, and audio training sessions, as well as warm ups.” It also links to the latest rowing news, and has a ‘club finder’ facility.

Stock says the fact that a mobile app can be continually updated allows British Rowing to keep users interested. “We can add new training sessions regularly so people stay engaged. That is one of our targets – not just to get a certain number of people rowing, but to keep them engaged and maintain that level of engagement too.”

The app has been promoted to its membership as well as using Facebook and Twitter to encourage people to download it. It has had more than 4,500 downloads since launching in June.



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